Facts and figures
Expert advice on landing a job—and negotiating your rate.
BY LINDSAY SCOTT
Q I've been applying for jobs but having a hard time deciphering help-wanted ads. What is the typical experience that employers are looking for from a practitioner?
A: We would like to think that having the right technical skills to deliver a project—coupled with team leadership and stakeholder management—would be an instant hit with employers. But during the last five years or so, more employers have narrowed their view and now often insist that applicants' domain or sector experience be relevant too.
Domain experience is focused around the type of project—for example, IT systems or customer relationship management (CRM) implementations. The industry sector could be banking, construction or professional services. For really risk-averse organizations—or for those with the time to wait for a perfect candidate—the right background means a combination of domain and industry experience.
Experience levels in certain areas of project management are sometimes also requested from applicants. For example, if a project has complex contractual arrangements, it stands to reason that the right candidate for the job will display a high degree of contract, legal and procurement competencies in his or her skill levels.
Don't assume that all organizations are looking for a practitioner with decades of experience under his or her belt. An organization with low-budget, minimal-risk projects may be looking for someone with the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® certification, for instance.
While all hiring managers will expect applicants to have a foundation in project management, the one thing I've learned in the past decade of hiring project managers is that there is no typical profile or requirement. If you're unsure what background the hiring manager finds most relevant, highlight your experience in terms of skills, industries and domains.
Q: I'm a contract project manager, often negotiating the amount I'm paid. How can I get the best day rate rather than settle for the first offer?
A: Having a clear picture of what your day rate should be will certainly make you appear professional against those who secure an offer and then start trying to negotiate the rate that everyone thinks is already agreed upon. In my experience it comes down to three things: knowing what your market rate is, having the confidence that you are worth that, and finally being willing to negotiate.
The market rate is changing all the time, impacted by the market, availability of roles, availability of competition, location and demand for your particular skills. Use online job boards, professional events, Internet searches and your network to keep abreast of the market and factor this into your calculations.
Then set three levels: your “get out of bed” rate, meaning the absolute minimum that you would accept; your target rate, which is the amount you believe your expertise as a project practitioner is worth in the current marketplace; and your stretch rate, or the upper target that you may achieve if the stars align just so.
Older practitioners who have lengthy experience, knowledge and wisdom are just as in demand as other age groups in the employment market. These people do particularly well in freelancing or consulting, where they meet specific demands from organizations that require a successful track record and a level of seniority.
This short exercise will put you in the right negotiating mindset going into the job hunt. But the real value comes from not stopping at a number. Think about your target and stretch rates and build a story about why you are worth those figures. Enter your next negotiation with those details in mind, and you'll be entering with the confidence that you are worth the rate you pitch.
Q: Are there opportunities for second-career returners in today's marketplace, or is the dearth of work causing even more age-based discrimination?
A: The problem with second-career returners is less about age discrimination and more about organizations wanting project practitioners with recent experience that aligns with the types of projects they are delivering. In other words, if you left project management to try your hand at another career and are now returning, hiring managers may be wary of your “currency” in the marketplace. A significant gap between now and the last time you worked within projects is the probable cause for lack of interest from hirers. There is also competition within the marketplace to consider too. If the hirer prefers recent experience over more experience gained a number of years ago, at the moment there's no shortage of less-experienced project managers to meet that requirement.
If you're returning to project management, one approach is to consider your immediate network. People who know what you are capable of beyond what it says on your résumé might be the key to getting the first opportunity back in the field.
Incidentally, older practitioners who have lengthy experience, knowledge and wisdom are just as in demand as other age groups in the employment market. These people do particularly well in freelancing or consulting, where they meet specific demands from organizations that require a successful track record and a level of seniority. Before you assume the lack of interest in your résumé is related to age, scrutinize the level and type of project management experience you could bring to the position and consider tailoring what type of roles you're applying to fill.
Q: How can I request a day rate increase, having been declined a rate increase last year?
A: If you're working as a freelance or contract project manager, the answer is easy: You ask again, indicating why you are looking for a rate increase. You could point to a number of things: current market rate, shift in responsibilities or scope of work, reward for a specific piece of work, etc. Go into the meeting with a specific list in mind, because you have to be ready to make a good case as to why you think the rate should be increased.
If your request fails again, the answer may be equally easy: You leave. If you're not achieving what you think is the market rate, you are free to explore other opportunities.
What you decide to do will most likely reside in the answer to the question, “Is the length of contract and guaranteed work more important than the rate?” Only you know the right answer to that. PM
Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England.
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